East Coast Rocker
6/25/97 - 7/2/97
An Interview with Pat Benatar: A Woman with a Mission
(followed by an interview with Neil Giraldo)
by Lydia Carole Defretos
The phone rings. The voice on the other end is instantly recognizable. "Can I call you back in about 15 minutes?" she asks, "My kids are starving and room service just came." I tell her "no problem," and hang up smiling. Yep, that was none other that Pat Benatar, rock star, and this early afternoon, devoted mother. Sure enough, 15 minutes later she calls back, and for the better part of an hour she and I catch up on what's been going on since I saw her in concert last Summer.
It's been a productive year. Finally, there's a new Benatar album, Innamorata, on CMC Records. It's her first studio record since Gravity's Rainbow was released in '93. But, the leading lady of rock hasn't exactly been laying low in the interim. For the past two Summers she's been playing sheds, first on the "Can't Stop Rockin'" bill that also featured Orleans, REO Speedwagon, and Fleetwood Mac (before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks re-joined), and last time out, she opened up for Steve Miller.
Of course, she's also been quite busy with her two daughters, Haley,12 and Hana,3, and her husband/partner NEIL!!! GIRALDO. The pair, who have one of the few successful working marriages in the entertainment industry, have known each other for some 20 years now. Together they have earned four Grammys as well as six platinum and four gold albums. Benatar's lengthy list of hit singles includes: "I Need A Lover," "Heartbreaker," "Fire And Ice," "Treat Me Right," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Hell is for Children," "Shadows of the Night," "Love is A Battlefield," "All Fired Up" and "Everybody Lay Down."
I'm not going to try and deny the fact that I am a huge Benatar fan and love this record. I also admire the resect and affection that Benatar and Giraldo so obviously have for each other. That camaraderie comes across on the new disc, on tunes like "Strawberry Wine," the first single, "River of Love," which is just screaming out to be a hit and "Only You." This was the fourth time I've spoken with Benatar. Naturally, it was more like a conversation with an old friend."
Lydia: I'm so glad to finally have this album. Last year, when you were out with Steve Miller, the reaction to the new stuff was pretty amazing.
Pat: After doing it for a couple of Summers, and even though this is only our second week into the tour, it's like they're not new songs at all. I mean the fans are familiar with "River of Love" and "Only You."
Lydia: In the Billboard article, you said that by the time Chrysalis was absorbed by EMI in the Fall of '95, that was the "beginning of the end, where we became a commodity and something to go public with." I didn't know that you guys walked away. For some reason, the label...
Pat: Oh they made it appear like they dumped us. That's not what happened. We walked away. They paid us a shitload of money. We said, "You have two options. You can either give me back my masters, and pay me a lot of money and let me out of here, or you can keep me, and I'm going to torture you until I'm out of here. I have one record left." That was it. They knew it was easier to give me money and make me go away.
Lydia: What were the masters of?
Pat: Some of the masters were of this record. They weren't gettin' it, no way.
Lydia: Let's face facts. They really dropped the ball with Gravity's Rainbow.
Pat: Oh, absolutely. Talk about total lack of interest. Charles Koppelman was only interested in selling that company and making it go public. That was all he was interested in doing. We were another prize to have on the roster. He couldn't have cared less about any of the people, not just me, I wasn't being singled out. It was everyone else that came over. Huey Lewis left. Everyone went as soon as they could. I used my seven year clause. I had one record left and I got out. That was it. They had to let me go, there was no choice.
Lydia: Is that why they released that double "best of" album?
Pat: No, they did it in retaliation to make up for the money they had to pay me.
Lydia: They never serviced us with that record. So I didn't write about it, or help them make any more money off of you.
Pat: As soon as we put another record out, probably as soon as this one's out, they'll probably put something else out. All they do is repackage it again. They have no co-operation from us whatsoever. They just keep putting together packages with old pictures. They can't get any new pictures from us, and they won't get any new songs.
Lydia: If you wanted to put out a live record, or you wanted to release another greatest hits, is there a certain amount of time you have to wait to use any of your old material?
Pat: I can't use the masters. I'm almost finished now, from five years after termination of our contract, so I'm almost done. I have like one year left. But I can do anything else I want, I can do an "unplugged," I can do anything. I can re-record anything I want.
Lydia: Speaking of an "unplugged," when you guys were on the radio with Howard Stern that was fun. I couldn't believe he had you singing at like nine in the morning.
Pat: Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I was like, "Oh, I can't sing this." It was so much in my upper register, I can't sing that early in the morning.
Lydia: Has anyone talked about doing an "Unplugged" or a "Hard Rock Live?"
Pat: I don't know. We're going one thing at a time. I'm trying to get through this first. NEIL!!! and I really want to do one, we'll probably do one soon. We have all those old songs. It would be so much fun to do the catalogue unplugged.
Lydia: Was it deliberate to make this a more acoustic album?
Pat: No, it's never a plan. I'd really like to say that we sat down and had a plan. It doesn't happen like that. For us, it's always the songs that dictate where it's going. We start writing songs, and they have a certain feel to them, a common thread happens between them, and they start determining where it's going to go. As far as the instrumentation goes, you start hearing certain things on certain songs. The record starts taking on a flavor that it's going to have. That pretty much dictates the direction. It's not like we go in and say, "You know, we're going to do an acoustic record with fiddles." Sometimes that happens, but that's not usual for us.
Lydia: That's more like what happened when you did "True Love."
Pat: Exactly. We knew we wanted to do a blues record, we had to go and pick songs. That's different because those aren't originals. When you start out with covers, that makes it easier to determine where you're going. But when you're starting out with originals they pretty much dictate the direction.
Lydia: Now when I saw you last Summer, you told me you were going to finish making this record then see who would pick it up. Is that how it happened?
Pat: Sort of. We actually never really got to take the tapes around because this guy from CMC just sort of swooped in, and he was so energetic, and so gung ho. He had heard a couple of the things, and they just really wanted us to do it. We never really got to take the tapes around. Sometimes you've just got to go with your gut feeling. We felt that these were the right people. They were going to do all the right things. He said all the right things, it wasn't about "Your past performances" or "We want to make more of those records." He didn't really care. Anything that we had that he liked he wanted to do, and that was it.
Lydia: Did you have to redo the record once he got involved?
Pat: No, no, we were finished. We handed him a finished thing.
Lydia: That goes along with the quote from you in the Billboard article, where you said you wouldn't work with another record company person that "gets inside our heads." What a great line.
Pat: No, no way. The great thing abot these guys, I have to say, is that they're not really in our heads. If everybody would just do their job, if they would just sell the records and stay out of it, and if they would just let us do our job, things would be much better. I don't really know how to sell records. I don't want to know how. I want to make them. It's like, "You sell them. You do that really well." I do this really well. That should work. The problem is when they've got to get their fingers in the pie, and they have all those lofty ideas, like they know what the hell sounds good where. It's ridiculous, it has no place. It's like jumbo shrimp, they don't go together. I stink at business, but I'm good at making the music.
Lydia: Were you at all concerned that CMC's roster is comprised of acts from the '70s and '80s?
Pat: No, because I look at if from a totally different perspecitive. This is the first time thay they have material that isn't retro. You can either look at it two ways. Either they don't know what they're doing and you're taking a huge chance or they're so happy. You're the first time that they have new material to work intstead. This is what record companies want.
Lydia: That's true, almost everybody else on the label has released "Best of" packages with one or two new songs.
Pat: Exactly right. There's a really good thing about the gentleman who runs this company, actually it's two guys. They have a very good philosophy. They really think it's not fair that people who have worked, and have made milestones in their careers and done really well, should just be never heard from again. That's why the label was begun, to perpetuate careers of people who did great things and made great strides.
Maybe they're not in the running for the Top 10 and all that kind of stuff, but they still have valid stuff and people want to hear it, and they deserve to make a living from it. I really appreciated that. I thought that was a great philosophy to have. These guys love music, you know what I mean? That's pretty much what it's about for them. You can't go wrong with people who are decent like that. So hopefully I'm knocking on wood. It's always the roll of the dice, you know?
Lydia: I recently interviewed Cyndi Lauper for Sisters of Avalon, and it's breaking my heart how people just don't seem to be getting this album.
Pat: (Sighing) I know, she's so wonderful. I saw her do something on TV and she was jumping around, pregnant and all. I thought, "You go, girl."
Lydia: And for her to have to go out and open for Tina Turner...
Pat: Well, we have to go out and open for Styx right now! I mean, what is that?
Lydia: Well, this is a summer where it sure seems like just about every artist around is touring.
Pat: Yeah, I know. But for us, it just kills us. And they're fine people. But you can't really look at it like that. You have a mission. You have a choice. You can go out and play 5,000 seaters for 18 months, which I can't do since I have little kids, I can't go anywhere for 18 months. I would much prefer to do that. This is driving me crazy. But you know what? I've got a job to do.
So, rather than spending five nights in a row playing to 25,000 people, I play to 25,000 people every night. You know what I mean? It's just for an hour, but believe me, I make the most of that goddamned hour. I've got one thing to do. I want people to hear this record. I don't want to be back in California, sitting on my ass, praying that somebody's hearing it. I want to make sure people are getting the message, that's why I'm doing it. That's the only reason I'm doing it. I'd much rather be doing a two-and-a-half-hour set, and be getting my acoustic stuff in, and be doing a blues part of the set. It's killing us that we can't do that. But we shove dates in-between whenever possible.
Lydia: So, in this all-too-brief opening set, are you concentrating primarily on new songs?
Pat: Yeah, it's a total logistic nightmare. We've only got 10 songs. I don't feel like I'm obligated to play old songs since this is my third Summer out. The fans have seen it. Now, "River of Love" and "Only You" are like older songs. People know them, I tell them up front, "I'm going to do a lot of the old stuff for you guys, but I really want you to get acquainted with this new stuff. So, that's what I'm going to do."
Lydia: Are you still bringing a few girls up on stage to sing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot?"
Pat: Absolutely! I don't want to sing that song.
Lydia: Are you hoping that there's going to come a time when you won't have to do that song?
Pat: I don't have to do it right now. Part of it is that it's about entertainment. You can't be a selfish pig.
Lydia: Are there any of the older songs that you just love?
Pat: Oh, yeah. I'd sing "Promises In The Dark" until I'm dead. "Heartbreaker," too. It's so much fun to sing that, it's just hilarious, especially when it's tongue-in-cheek. And "Hell Is For Children" is great. Then there's a ton of stuff I just don't get to do because the set is so short, like "Painted Desert," which I love. There's a lot of really good songs I can't do.
Lydia: Let's get into some of the songs on your new record. I fully expected "River Of Love" to be the first single.
Pat: In concert, that song rivals any of the old stuff that we do. I think we all felt like we just didn't want to put it out first.
Lydia: Also, I can easily hear "Only You" on the radio.
Pat: Well, let's hope.
Lydia: "Papa's Roses" is another of my favorites. NEIL!!! just does some incredible guitar work on that cut.
Pat: (Whispering) Don't tell him. You're going to speak to him yourself.
Lydia: "Dirty Little Secrets" is great, too. What are your favorites?
Pat: When it's new they're pretty much all your favorites, 'cause they're like children. I love "Papa's Roses," because it was inspired by this book called Geek Love. It's about carnie people, people in the sideshows, freaks. It's about families that perpetuate the line by intentionally deforming the children in utero, so that they can have freaks, so that they can keep the family business going. One of the chapters is called "Papa's Roses," he calls them his roses because they're special, each one of them has a special thing about them, and it's like his garden. It's so bent and sick. But, it's got such a great book. That's really not what the song is about, that was just the inspiration.
And I love "River of Love," 'cause it's just about the funnest goddamn song to do live. "Strawberry Wine" I love. "Only You" I love 'cause I wanted a song with a one line title. That was it. I just wanted to sing it over and over again. We got it, and I was really happy we did.
Lydia: Vocally, you've never sounded better. Do you do anything special to take care of your voice?
Pat: Thank you. No, absolutely not. I try not to yell at my kids. When I go to my throat doctor he goes, "You really have to stop screaming at your children." That's pretty much it. You know what? That's the best part about being this age, it really is settled in. Your body doesn't control you anymore, you're controlling your body. Technique is pretty much iron-clad. And, unless I get sick, or someone screws up my monitors, it's fine. And you don't have all the anxiety you had when you were younger.
And, whether you're making the record or playing live every night, you're pretty much relaxed. It's about having a good time. That comes across hopefully. If you're doing a lot of angst and you're feeling all that kind of stuff, that comes across, too. But I really don't want that in my life, and hopefully that kind of thing comes out in the record. I don't think you can disguise that. If people feel warmth and stuff from it, hopefully, that's how come.
Lydia: Last time we talked, you said doing "True Love" had helped as far as clearing out a lot of leftover crap you had from your rock star days. Would you ever think about doing another blues record?
Pat: Oh, yeah, we would die to do another. First you got to get a record out, and see what happens. If things go okay, then hopefully, we'll do another one.
Lydia: Are you still doing "True Love" in concert?
Pat: Oh, absolutely. That's one of the highlights of the night for us. That's what's killing us the most. What we'd really like to do is an "evening with" kind of thing, and do like 45-60 minutes of contemporary stuff, then have the blues band come out and do 60 minutes of blues stuff. Do 'em back-to-back. I think that would be fun for everybody.
Lydia: Now what's this I hear about a stark and personal video for "Strawberry Wine?"
Pat: (Laughing) "Stark and personal," who said that? God, you gotta love those media guys. I don't know that it's stark, it's very beautiful. It is very personal, it's just NEIL!!! and I in the video. We just did it in Dallas just about five days ago. I just saw it yesterday for the first time myself. I think it came out great. I don't know how any of this part works, nor do I want to. We've been doing a bunch of stuff for VH-1, so I'm sure it'll go there right away.
Lydia: I have to tell you the funniest thing, and this shows just how exciting my life is. In last week's TV Guide crossword puzzle, 46 across is "Pat Benatar song, 'Love _ _ Battlefield' (two words)."
Pat: (Laughing) Now I know I've made it; I'm in a crossword puzzle.
Lydia: Tell me the story behind Haley's song, "Gina's Song."
Pat: NEIL!!!'s always trying to get Haley to play, and she won't. But he got her to strum a few things, and she did this thing, "I love you Mama, I love you Papa," and he just looped it. Then he put the background drum behind it. She just won't do anything at all. She's at that age where she's just totally humiliated that we're even alive.
Lydia: Does she sing?
Pat: Oh, yeah, but she won't. It's a pretty tough thing. I always think about how my mother sang but that was only semi-professionally, and I just wanted to kill myself. I just keep thinking, "Oh, Christ, everywhere you go there's your mother's face."
Lydia: But werent' you the librarian in her school?
Pat: Yeah, but not now because she's in seventh grade now. You don't even show up. You have to have meetings with the teachers in hiding. Both my kids sing, even Hana. And Haley can play any instrument, but she won't. She's trying to find her own place, and that's what I'm trying to help her do. I'm like, "Find what it is that makes you stick out for yourself, I understand." She doesn't want to be in our shadow.
(Pat Benatar, along with NEIL!!! Giraldo and band will be at the PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, Sunday, June 29; and Jones Beach, Wantaugh, NY, Tuesday, July 1. Innamorata is in stores now.)
An Interview With NEIL!!! GIRALDO!
Lydia: Hi, NEIL!!! This is a great record. The missus enlightened me as to how you guys hooked up with CMC. You didn't have to pound the pavement with this project.
NEIL!!!: No, we got lucky. If you think about all of the shit that's involved with those big record companies, it's so much nicer to be able to get on the phone and talk to the president. I get on the phone and talk to him all the time, it's beautiful.
Lydia: Did you do anything different as far as your guitar playing goes for this record? The playing on the title track, especially, is amazing.
NEIL!!!: "Innamorata," let me get you into saying this so you're comfortable with it. (For the next few minutes we have a lesson in elocution of this Italian word that means "lover." I'd never pass Italian.) As far as anything different guitar-wise, I'll tell you what happened. In the beginning of making the record I wanted to try and make an album without an electric guitar in it. But I thought, "Well, I don't want an acoustic record, either." I thought, "I have this way of doing basically an electric/acoustic guitar through a Leslie."
So, I set up a certain tone from the beginning of the record. It was really funny when we went and tried to do an electric guitar song...I think the only one that's on there is "River Of Love." But when we went to do it, it felt so out of place at the time. What happens is your fingers, and your mind set, is into one particular thing with the nylon strings and all. "Innamorata" was probably the first thing recorded for the record. It's funny that I put it last. So, it's sort of like the first and the last.
Lydia: Aren't you forgetting something? "Gina's Song" is really the last cut.
NEIL!!!: I know, that's a real sweetie.
Lydia: That's the other thing that I like about the record. Between Pat's laugh at the beginning and Haley's singing at the end, it's like a glimpse into the life of the Giraldo family.
NEIL!!!: That's funny that you'd say that. I had this little boy come up on stage when we played in Atlanta. I think he was 12-years-old. And he goes, "You know, on stage you guys have such a great time. You're just horsing around, you're so relaxed, and it really shows." I couldn't believe this little kid picked up on that. We do that, and part of the record is that. We want it to be a touching moment. Since it means lover, the wife probably filled you in on all that, we wanted to keep that warm thought throughout the record. I think we accomplished that.
Lydia: Now, on stage, are you switching guitars for the new songs?
NEIL!!!: Yeah, I do the same thing, play the acoustic through the Leslie. One thing, too, that was cool about the record was that it played live, the guitar, the bass drum,all that stuff was done live. There were some overdubs but not much. That's why it sounds and feels like it does.
Lydia: How much does it upset you to do these short opening sets?
NEIL!!!: It's very upsetting. It probably bothers me more than anyone. What happens is your trying to build the momentum in 60 minutes, and you're trying to span a 20-year career. It's just impossible. So, yeah, we hit it about four-fifths of the way in. It's like we've just shifted the gear, and I'm ready to go for another hour-and-a-half.
But, I'll tell you what's really nice. In this business, and in this world, you've got to learn to take a punch, you have to...not literally. We're dying to do the rock 'n' blues show Pat was talking to you about. Hopefully, if everything goes well, that will happen.
Lydia: It will. You guys have a hit on your hands, trust me.